“HUN-TER! HUN-TER! HUN-TER!” the student section chanted as the final seconds counted down on the scoreboard. It was a Friday night at Ted Fritsch Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. September 5th, 2008 to be exact. Three-years to the day since my father had passed. Our coach was congratulating us as my teammates and I took a knee to accept his praise. We had just trounced cross town rival, Green Bay East High School by the tune of 42-6. I don’t remember what he said. His message muffed by the roar of the crowd. There was no wonder who orchestrated this heartfelt display of friendship, love and support. I knew it was the sister I never had, Jaide.
Her compassion didn’t stop there. After I had showered and gathered my things, I recall walking up the stairs and out the door to the parking lot. “Where is he?! Let me at ’em!” Jaide shrieked. Pouncing into my arms before I stepped onto the pavement. Embracing me with one of her world-famous hugs. Her body covered in royal blue and kelly green paint. Which meant I was then covered in our school colors as well. I didn’t care. My friend was there for me on one of the most emotionally challenging times in my life. And now it is my turn to be there for her. Jaide, if you’re reading, then know I poured my heart into this for you, dear. They say if writing were easy, then authors would just sit down, and open a vein. Well, having a heavy heart certainly didn’t make this easy to compose. But despite the pain, I am happy to “bleed” so the world may know how special you are. I hope this suffices.
Almost a decade later on July 20th, 2018. My best friend was getting married to the man of her dreams. To this day, I have yet to find a bride more beautiful.
“Happy” doesn’t cut it. She was jubilant. If her smile didn’t give it away, then her energy most definitely did. She was electric. Jaide was the knot which bound everyone in the room. It was her day. It was her moment. And she knocked the cover off the ball. I have never been more proud to call myself her friend.
We celebrated her and Zach. We never stopped dancing, (even when the DJ decided to play all the latino-inspired tracks back-to-back-to-back). And boy did we laugh; joshing harder than the time we went egging and got away with it…well, almost. Now Jaide had grown up; we weren’t in Mr. Lagerman’s theology class anymore. Jaide had “graduated” into married life. Zach and her had a future brighter than the bronze in her eyes.
Proof of that future came soon when they welcomed the newest member of their family, Andre.
I looked forward to watching Jaide’s Instagram stories each and everyday. Why? Selfishly, because I wanted to see that little bundle of joy smiling ear-to-ear in his mommy’s arms. But I also envied the Cole household. Not jealous. I was appreciative. Content. Elated. Andre had everything I didn’t as a little boy; stability, consistency, and love. Jaide and Zach were perfect for him. I was captivated by them. They were surely going to live happily ever after.
Just days ago on the Fourth of July, I was enjoying the festivities on the lake with the people I cherish. Beguiled by the cumulonimbus clouds. The day was splendid. Impeccable. Ideal. Until it wasn’t. My phone buzzed. It was another friend from high school, Hanna. “What’s your phone number?” I gave it to her, wondering what the hell she needed it for. “Everything OK?” I was just being polite, not pessimistic. “No – did you see Jaide’s post? (on Instagram) Her husband overdosed.” My heart dropped faster than the phone in my hands to catch my tear-filled face. “No! No! No! Oh my God.” I whimpered. I tried my best to stay strong for my son and girlfriend. I didn’t want them to see how crushed I was, but I couldn’t contain my hemorrhaged heart for Jaide. For Andre. Immediately after docking, I fled to the bedroom, shut the door, and wept harder than I thought possible. “That little boy.” I bawled as my girlfriend coddled me. “She doesn’t deserve this.” I felt helpless for the first-time in my life. What could I do?
At the age of 29, a time many consider to be the prime of one’s life. Jaide would now have to surrender to her new reality: being a widow and a single mother. I couldn’t remain idle. I had to do something. I called Jaide after composing myself and left a voicemail. “Thank you. Not ready to talk yet, but I love you.” her text read just minutes later. Of course she wasn’t ready. This was unprecedented. Uncharted waters. The love of her life lost his battle to addiction. Her heart didn’t break. It shattered. And now she was alone to pick up the pieces.
She doesn’t deserve this. She shouldn’t have to be unaided during this time. She ought to have not one pair of hands, but many, as she puts her heart – and life – back together. Why? Because she’s worth it. Because compassion knows no bounds. Because love wins, always.
But what does society and the media preach? Hate. Rupture. Distrust. Unless your skin color is the same as mine, I can’t help you. If you support Donald Trump, you’re on your own. Our mindset doesn’t mesh? See ya. I apologize for being so vulgar, but fuck that.
Check your ego at the door. Leave your beliefs behind, if even just for a moment. Because this family just got smaller. And if we can’t find common ground for Jaide and her son, then Andre may not have the opportunities you and I took for granted as we grew up. Hell, we probably forget how fortunate we were; our “problems” were deciding which flavor Pop-Tart fit the bill for breakfast. Andre has a real problem. A true obstacle in his path. He just lost his father. The first shepherd in every boy’s life. He now will have to go through the foreseeable future without a daddy to play catch with. A dad to give his belly raspberries. A father to take him to soccer practice. A papa to tell him, “Everything is gonna be OK.”
But there is hope. I believe in silver-linings. “Times like these bring people closer, not further.” I told Hanna. I don’t know much, but I know the day will come when Jaide and Andre no longer have to worry about what the future holds. That day will arrive. Sooner rather than later.
I’m not gifted. I’m not talented. I’m not superman. I am a man who feels compelled to do everything in his power to help Jaide and Andre. I lost my father at the age of fourteen. Andre hasn’t been here for fourteen months. I remember losing my father. I pray to God Andre never does. His heart is too innocent and pure to be pierced with such pain. I had to traverse the most formative years of a young man’s life without my dad. And I’ll be damned if Andre has to do the same. I vow to not let that happen. Jaide, I asked you to be my date to prom over ten-years ago. I was so proud. I now ask you to grant me the chance to be a member of your family as “Uncle” Hunter. Nothing would make me prouder.
- Birthdays: I was raised in a split family. Which meant each trip around the sun was celebrated with my mom. I remember seeing my friends having amazing Uncles who were practically their “second” dad. They would take them to Packer games. Bring them to Bay Beach. Watch Jurassic Park at the movies. I never had an Uncle who stepped up for me. I can’t rewrite what has already been written, but I can begin a new chapter. And the next one will have Andre scribbled on every page. I will be there for his first birthday and each one after. I promise Jaide, you won’t have to celebrate him alone like my mom did with me.
- Graduations, Milestones, and Anniversaries: Kindergarten graduation? I’m there. First football game? Done. Celebrating Zach’s life each year? You bet. These are events every Uncle should attend. These are events every little boy should experience with an abundance of love and support. Best believe I will hold myself to that.
- Coaching: Did you think you were going to get through a story without something training-related? No chance. The moment Andre wants to starting working out – and he will, he sees momma do so everyday – please Jaide, do not hesitate to reach out. The old weight room at Notre Dame Academy changed me, and it had nothing to do with getting bigger, stronger, or faster. Yes, it gave me “Most Muscular” in the yearbook, but it doesn’t compare to the confidence I gleaned over the years. Andre will have supreme self-esteem, he deserves it.
But I am only one man. I can only do so much. I am not asking you drop everything and become a member of Jaide’s family. I am asking, however, you give something so she may repair hers. Last year I gave away my business, my livelihood, my baby. Why? Because it isn’t always about doing things right. Sometimes it’s about doing the right thing. Make no mistake, it is not my intention to be viewed as a saint for doing so. It is only my intention to show with great power comes great responsibility. I don’t expect you to give up your business, your livelihood, or your baby. But I do hope you do the right thing so Jaide can provide for hers.
Andre hasn’t even been here for one year. And now, he’ll have to go the rest of his years without his daddy. We can’t bring Zach back. We can’t rewrite what has already been written, but we can begin a new chapter – today. And the next chapter of Andre’s life can have your name on the pages. “Times like these bring people closer, not further.” Jaide was the knot which bound everyone in the room, and she still is. Do the right thing. Donate, don’t discount. Let love win, so Jaide and Andre may never know loss again.